The Salad Bar Plot

The latest terror threat warning involves an alleged plot by al-Qaeda to poison our yuletide food supply.  If you listen to political figures like Michelle Obama or New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg discuss our diets, you might wonder how they could possibly be made any less healthy, but the jihadist fiends have an answer: according to a Fox News report, they want to target salad bars.  Oh, and they also want to target buffets, which are salad bars followed by unhealthy stuff simmering in pans, in which the salad is used as a mechanism for deflecting the guilt of all that comes afterward.

No one is quite certain how plausible this threat might be.  The official estimate is that al-Qaeda’s capability to carry out such an attack is “low.”  I hate to say it, but it doesn’t seem like it would be all that hard to pull off.  The terrorists just need to get some operatives hired by the targeted restaurants, and provide them with the necessary toxins.  CBS News says al-Qaeda wants to use ricin or cyanide.  Ricin is made from castor beans.

CBS reports that corporate security officers from the hotel and restaurant industries have been briefed about the threat.  Drive down the main street of your town and ask yourself how many of the restaurants have recently enjoyed contact from a “corporate security officer.” 

The plausibility of this attack scenario is the reason it bothers me.  It might be tough to get poison into the well-protected food distribution centers of major chains, but a large number of operatives could carry out an operation at the “retail” level of individual restaurants, and have a pretty good chance of escaping to boot.  The recent high-profile arrests of home-grown jihadis in Portland and Baltimore lead me to wonder how many of them haven’t been detected yet.

I hope the low-threat assessment is correct… and, if not, that the FBI is as good at selling fake ricin to terrorist stooges as it is at selling them fake bombs.  Rep. Peter King (R-NY) has suffered heavy criticism, ranging up to hysterical charges of “McCarthyism,” for wanting to hold hearings on the radicalization of Islamic communities when he becomes chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee next year.  The threat of a Salad Bar Plot illustrates why such hearings are necessary.  We have a lot of open society we need to protect.  We must target our efforts carefully, instead of wasting time and money on security theater at airports.